They Just Don’t “Get It”

January 25, 2013 by
Filed under: Internet Life and Humanity 

Today I do something I don’t often do, pierce the wall that separates the real world from the mostly fictional world of our Second Lives. I generally try to keep a certain level of “Professional Detachment”, but I’m also someone that tends to connect at a purely emotional level with people. It can sometimes lead to problems, but for the most part I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way.

Because of the various events in my life, I am currently in a situation in which I spend great amounts of time flat on my back watching TV. A good number of those hours of passive informational input are dedicated to news programs. Lately they’ve been grinding over an issue that seems to have their fascination up, but also proves just how horribly out of touch the News Media are with the digital age and the shape of Internet Humanity.

Catfishing and Manti T’eo

If there’s one good thing to come out of the events that befell Manti T’eo, it’s that someone has finally put a name to the activity that is at the center of his “story”. No, I don’t mean his expertise on the (American) football field, I mean being duped by someone on the Internet. Because the News Media needs a way to capture the entire story in one neat, concise word, someone in their inner sanctum cooked up and attached the word “Catfishing” to the whole process.

But even though they’ve managed to label it, they still just do not get it.

The Interview with Katie Couric

Just the other day, Katie Couric sat down with Manti T’eo for the express purpose of getting to the bottom of his experience with being “Catfished”. The entire interview can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2d1iNQkbDA. All throughout the interview, Katie kept angling questions based on one single premise … well more precisely on a couple of different premises. But at the heart of those was the one idea that Manti should have known better. A disturbing undertext was that he was somehow complicit, or perhaps purposely ignorant in the whole affair.

Granted, the job of TV Personalities is to turn plain old stuff into mud and turmoil, but Katie had an obvious slice on things that presupposed a good measure of guilt on Manti’s part. To me, it just underscored how horribly out of touch the News Media is in general when it comes to being a human being on the Internet.

The Scammer Angle

Most of the post-mortems on the interview emphasized the fact that it is only scammers and thieves that employ the Catfishing approach in order to dupe their victims out of money. One after the other, every talking head I watched said the same thing. They almost glorified the fact that it is only criminals that engage in such deceptions, and only because their sole purpose is to steal something (usually money) from the unwitting target.

Perhaps I’ve been lucky in my life, or maybe I’ve just been unlucky … depending on your viewpoint, but I’ve never been victimized by someone with the sole purpose of duping me out of money. That’s not to say I haven’t been duped, because I have. But so far those instances where I let my guard down and began to believe the stories from the other end were never because the other person wanted to take my money.

The Catfisher

So permit me to talk some about the people that have engaged in lying to me over the Internet. But first you must agree to abide by one rule; the people I’m going to tell you about were not thieves or crooks. In fact, the people that have successfully fooled me never did so because they wanted to take something from me .. not in the least. They were without exception ordinary humans with that one basic human foible … the need to be needed.

Yes, that’s right. They did engage in their deception in order to gain something for themselves. But it wasn’t money, it wasn’t wealth and it wasn’t something they could take from me or deprive me of having. Instead they were people that needed something more in their own lives, something that for various reasons were absent from their existence. Without exception they had hit on the belief that the only way they could obtain it was to lie, to deceive, to carry out a deception that was rich, deep and as complete as possible.

The saddest part of all though is that their “solution” to their problem was in fact not really a solution at all. In the end, when the lies and untruths became apparent and all the shadows were destroyed by the light, they were left with even more hurt, even more emptiness … and compounded with an even greater sense of unworthiness and loss. As so often proves true, their use of deception not only did not gain them anything they desired, in the end it actually removed even more of the small bit of dignity they had beforehand. And to me, that’s the saddest part of all.

Being Alone

For many of us on this planet, the scariest and most destructive of situations that can befall us is the fact that we are alone. I don’t mean absent other people … family, friends, other humans around us all the time. I mean being ALONE. Being trapped in a mindset, an attitude, a way of thinking and feeling and existing that prevents us from sharing any of our feelings and needs to anyone else.

Yeah, there’s often a family member or 20 within easy reach. And yeah, they SAY they’re there to listen and understand and help. But they aren’t really. It’s not their fault either. They love us, they want so very much to help us. But they just don’t get it. For whatever reason they just cannot wrap their heads or their hearts around the particulars that act as the bars on our cages.

In those instances where we do reach out to them, when we do try and share with them the ghosts and fears that haunt us day in and day out, the end result is even more debilitating. During the process we come to realize that no matter how we say what we need to say, no matter what words we use or what analogies we cook up to try and show them the real shape of our dungeon, it only serves to make them realize more just how foreign or strange or just plain broken we are.

Except we’re not broken. We’re not dysfunctional. We’re not aliens or strange or deranged or mad or anything of the like. We are just humans … humans with a different set of circumstances than they can comprehend. And so through the failure of their attempt to connect with us, we realize even more just how hopeless it can be to be trapped in our places. And that drives the nails even deeper into our flesh.

Remaking Ourselves

In Manti T’eo’s case, the person that engaged him in their deception used a picture of a very lovely young lady, asserting that it was their real picture. I’ve listened to the voicemail message left on Manti’s machine too, and it’s a lovely voice without the slightest hint of deception. This is all part of the “New Me” that is invented in order to try and find a connection to someone. The fake image, the fake name, the fake situations … all of these are important in order to give the character invented depth and realism.

In my case, those that have fooled me used the same techniques. Sometimes they used pictures snagged from the Internet, sometimes they used pictures from their youth and claimed they were recent photos. They added details that sometimes included tales of woe and misfortune, but not always. Some have added details that gave them positions of power, or good fortune, or happy relationships with their immediate surrounds. But of course they were always fabricated at their core.

It’s not a big deal to create a new personality on the Internet. In Second Life, it’s not only easy, it’s required! The number of people that create Avatars that accurately mirror their reality are few and far between. Instead there is almost a mandate to invent a character that is fictional and fantastic, totally impossible to find in real reality. But alongside that required fictional personality is the fictional human inside the Avatar. And that is where the stories continue into fantasy.

The Real Goal of Lying

The word “Lying” is such a negatively charged word, so full of repugnance that it’s tough to get past those emotions and accept the fact that it seems so necessary in order to achieve the real goal … to be ACCEPTED. The lies become the glue that holds together the whole charade, and the purpose of the charade is to no longer be alone.

In all honesty, it’s not a bad thing to want to be not alone. It’s so purely human and so completely acceptable that just admitting that need would open many a door and cement many a relationship. But sadly, for so many weird reasons, many find it impossible to just put voice to that one truth. And thus they begin the fantasy that will eventually lead to even more hurt and more aloneness … and further drive them into the solitude of their trap.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned, I have fallen victim to several of these games in my Internet Life. At the end of the game, sometimes I came away with a great amount of anger and disgust. But after a time, after reflection and distance, I’ve come to look upon those people and their game as something hurtful more to them than to me. I have come away not hating them or retaining hard feelings, but with a measure of compassion and understanding.

I have been alone in my life too. Thankfully I’m not as alone now as I have been at times over my 50+ years, but I still can reach into my memory and pull up those emotions and that fear and use them to help me understand why people go Catfishing. As a last thought, I hope that those engaged now in deceiving someone will stop and think about where the road will lead … then back away and try to find a new situation that begins and stays within the bounds of truth.

And to those that have been duped, or are being duped now … please remember that very seldom is the other person trying to take from you, they are just trying to find a place of acceptance in their own lives. And that’s something that you could probably give very easily.


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